— along with the state health insurance exchanges — is pushing the landscape of the health insurance market in the direction of the online consumer economy.

Online consumer behavior is key. On January 17, 2014 in the Wall Street Journal, a story appeared about online consumer behavior oriented to shopping for products formerly purchased at the shopping mall. According to ShopperTrak (and the Wall Street Journal story), retailers got nearly half the holiday traffic in 2013 as they did three years earlier. Apparently, shoppers are skipping the mall and seeking online deals with best-price scenarios AND surfing until they find them. This Forbes piece” echoes the current trend; shoppers are unlikely to return to old mall-shopping habits.

Best Buy, a major consumer electronics retailer, just posted weak holiday results, and it’s not the only big-box retailer to have fallen short of end-of-the-year sales goals. Consumers are popping over to Best Buy to the sales “showroom” floor chock full of displays for cameras, tablets, e-readers, and phones, browsing, and then going online for better deals.

Online Shopping and the Insurance Market

What does the Internet have to offer a consumer shopping for health insurance?

The first generation of health insurance exchanges are static, information-based sites structured almost as online versions of shopping malls. These exchanges offer the same approach for every buyer, regardless of their requirements or needs. A recent blog from BSwift addresses the fact that exchanges are going to evolve in order to become more effective. Suggestions focus on providing additional information to help consumers make more informed decisions.

Like other sectors of the consumer economy, a business as usual approach will change to meet the demands of the buyer. As additional data becomes available about consumers’ online shopping habits, health benefits companies, insurance providers, and broker/agents will need to think strategically about how this impacts their business. To maximize the impact of health insurance exchanges, consumers need decision tools rather than online shopping malls to make optimal purchases.

Other sectors are already moving towards more sophisticated web shopping experiences. For example,

  • publishes reviews about its services and uses business intelligence to offer recommendations based on consumers’ shopping habits and purchases online.
  • Amazon recently purchased to enhance its business intelligence recommendation capabilities.
  • does this for electronics.
  • Sites like are taking this to another level by leveraging social media to crowdsource live responses to particular queries.

Winning in Health Insurance Exchange Technology

The new winners in health insurance exchange technology will acknowledge:

  • Consumers are savvier online now than ever before and are demanding decision tool support as opposed to online shopping malls.
  • Providing more and more unparsed data, in and of itself, will not get you there.
  • New shopping experiences will account for the fact that different buyers have different needs and decision requirements.
  • More Wifi networks are being set up in pockets of the country to provide greater connectivity. Rather than shopping online at home or at a brick-and-mortar store, consumers are going mobile and can shop anywhere, anytime.
  • Smartphones and mobile devices are ubiquitous; Apple has sold 420 million smartphones in the last seven years. People are utilizing this mobile technology to shop and make purchases.

About The Authors

Ellen Glassman, Ph.D. is a founder of Retiree Health Choices. She is a licensed health and life insurance broker with expertise in business development, design and marketing. Jayme Soulati is a professional consultant helping businesses compete with social marketing and public relations tools.